QLDC: airport strategy 'too complex' for community consultation

by Lauren Pattemore and Peter Newport - Feb 10, 2023

In the wake of a High Court judge recently labelling QLDC “evasive and misleading” in their failed Wānaka airport consultation a senior council manager told yesterday’s full council meeting that running an airport was too complex an issue for the community to understand.

Making the unusual comment was Meaghan Miller, the Corporate Services General Manager who runs communications, strategy, policy and governance for QLDC.

QLDC's Meaghan Miller: "running an airport too complex for community to understand."

Here’s her full quote:(can be viewed at 30.50 on QLDC's Facebook/Zoom recording of the live stream).

"There are inordinate levels of complexity to running an airport and we can't expect our community to be able to make an informed comment based on that level of complexity.”

Source:  Meaghan Miller - QLDC General Manager Corporate Services.

The comment was made in the context of councillors debating the level of community consultation on the Queenstown Airport Corporation’s strategic planning process.

Crux was contacted after the council meeting by John Glover who is executive officer of Shaping Our Future, the council funded think tank that consults with the community on what direction the Southern Lakes should take over the coming decades. He told Crux that he strongly disagreed with Ms Miller's statement, adding that he was speaking in a personal capacity and that these were his views not those of Shaping Our Future.

“I’m shocked that a very senior staff member maintains that the community shouldn’t be allowed to comment on a topic because it’s complex.”

“I’ve spent the last year working with communities from Hāwea to Cromwell to Kingston and right across rural Southland and I know that communities are very capable of understanding the interdendence of a huge range of complex issues.”

Crux has asked QLDC if council management, including the CEO, share the view of Ms Miller. 

QLDC's comms team replied with the following statement, attributed to Meaghan Miller:

"I was directly relaying the QAC’s position which is laid out in a letter dated 25 March 2022, which in no way could be construed as stating that the community cannot understand complex issues. The letter was attached to the SOI agenda item of 28 April 2022: https://www.qldc.govt.nz/media/osykvum5/1c-qac-soi-cover-letter-280322.pdf

New councillor Lisa Guy defended the idea of limiting public consultation saying that many decisions around the airport were best left to the QAC board and directors.

Shaping our Future's John Glover - he believes the community can understand complex issues and should be consulted.

Councillor Guy said it was better to keep “noses and fingers out, to let them [QAC] get on with it” saying that clear guidelines had been met.

Councillor Lisa Guy: 'Let the airport get on with it.'

“I'd like to say that we really work positively with our board and (we should) give them the confidence that they represent us well.”

Councillor Niki Gladding spoke in favour of more public consultation on this stage of the airport strategic planning process.

Councillor Gladding believed a lack of consultation by Council and by QAC meant that uninformed decisions were now being made about the airport’s growth model and whether that’s what the community really wants.

Niki Gladding told councillors that the strategic airport plan – which will inform the upcoming master plan – was based on the idea that the airport would reach 3 million annual passengers – but she noted this growth model hadn’t been put to the community before it was written.

In the end the councillors voted to submit their latest Statement of Expectations to the Queenstown Airport Corporation without any additional requirements for community consultation.

Read more: January 2021: Councillors back airport’s right to make hidden strategic plans.

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